MOSCOW, April 26 (RIA Novosti) - Anatoly Chubais, who oversaw Russia's mass privatization drive in the 1990s, said on Friday he had always treated allegations that his US advisers at the time were operatives of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as rumors - until President Vladimir Putin said so out loud yesterday.
“I often heard those claims and frankly speaking, treated them as rumors. But if the president says so, this must be serious,” Chubais said.
He also said he had never seen a single document confirming that information, adding “it seems that those who were responsible for that were obviously inefficient.”
During Thursday’s annual televised Q&A, Putin said Chubais’ inner circle when he oversaw Russia’s privatization process as deputy prime minister in the 1990s included “advisers who, as it turns out today, worked as career officers in the US CIA.”
“What’s funnier is that after returning to the United States they were taken to court for breaking their country’s laws and getting rich off the privatization of the Russian Federation and did not have the right to do this as acting intelligence officers,” Putin said.
Putin did not identify the alleged CIA agents by name, but his mention of the individuals’ alleged financial impropriety suggests he may have been speaking about noted economist Andrei Shleifer and lawyer Jonathan Hay.
The two men, along with Harvard University, paid a $30 million fine in 2005 to settle US federal charges that they had illegally profited from Russian privatizations. Russian media reports have accused Shleifer and Hay of being CIA officers, though there is nothing in the public domain to suggest either man was employed by the intelligence agency.
Janine Wedel, an expert on the Harvard-Russia scandal of the 1990s, said US prosecutors thoroughly documented Shleifer and Hay’s alleged misdeeds while the men advised Chubais and other Russian officials under a Harvard-run program funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
But Wedel, a professor at George Mason University in Virginia, said she had seen no evidence that the two men were linked to the intelligence services.
The CIA did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Shleifer did not respond to an email and a voicemail requesting comment on Thursday, and Hay could not immediately be reached.
The privatization process in Russia in the 1990s saw the rapid rise to enormous riches of a small group of well-connected businessmen and politicians, while much of the country sank into poverty. That episode evokes widespread disgust among most Russians, who see the privatization process as a Western-sponsored plan to enrich an anointed few by hawking the jewels of the collapsed Soviet empire.
Putin has repeatedly disparaged this period as the “wild 1990s,” and arguably no other public figure is as closely associated with this turbulent era as Chubais, a former economist.
Putin also said on Thursday, however, that while “many mistakes” had been made during the controversial privatization of Russia’s post-Soviet economy, Chubais and the other reformers had shown “courage” in taking the unpopular radical measures they deemed necessary.